For most of her adult life, Rachel Ong has dedicated herself to helping the less fortunate and people from disadvantaged groups who need guidance and support. So, it’s not surprising to learn that she started a youth development initiative called Trybe in her late 20s, and in 2007, a learning and consulting company called Rohei. Two years ago, she was elected Member of Parliament (MP), representing the Telok Blangah ward of West Coast GRC. In 2021, she started the Telok Blangah Mentoring Club, for 10-to-17-year olds in her ward.
Empathy and kindness are at the centre of everything that Rachel does. And the 50-year-old believes that we are all capable of making a positive difference in our community, and that you don’t need to serve in government or start a charity in order to change lives for the better, bring a smile to someone’s face or create a happier world.
Rachel grew up in what she says was a loving, caring and generous family. She has a sister, Trish, who is two years younger than her, and the two are very close.
“Trish moved to Canada in the ’90s after getting married, as her husband was posted there for work. Their two children were born and raised in Canada, and they are still there. We miss them, but we communicate and visit regularly. My niece just spent her six-week summer break with us in Singapore. I’m equally blessed to have an amazing brother-in-law who’s family-centred as well.”
Rachel, who is single, lived with her parents all her life until 2021, when she moved to her own place to be closer to her division. She still sees her parents often, though – the trio catch up every Sunday over dinner.
Helping others and doing charity work was a big part of Rachel’s childhood, thanks to her parents, who constantly encouraged her to reach out to those in need. She volunteered at an aged care home every Friday afternoon after school, and assisted at soup kitchens, where she distributed food to the underprivileged.
Early adulthood was also an important period in Rachel’s life – she witnessed many inequalities and inequities, and decided that more needed to be done to help disadvantaged groups and people who had been side-lined. While overseas, she experienced racial discrimination for the first time, which made her realise the importance of diversity and inclusiveness in communities.
Convinced that she could bring about positive change, Rachel established Trybe in 2001. A registered charity and social service agency, Trybe specialises in guiding and mentoring youths who face adversities, who’ve had difficult childhoods, or who may be directionless, empowering them to overcome their challenges and helping them reach their full potential so that they can lead purposeful lives and inspire their own communities along the way.
Today, many of the youths who received help from Trybe now work for the charity, doing meaningful jobs and contributing to society.
“I started Trybe from my parents’ home while working full-time in a management consulting firm. When Trybe started to grow, I then quit my job to enter social service in a full-time capacity,” she shares.
“I remember giving away my corporate attire, thinking that I was going to be a youth worker for the rest of my life. Two years after working full-time at Trybe, well-meaning aunts suggested that I start a for-profit company. That was the genesis of Rohei, which I started in 2007 with a few friends.”
Rohei’s core mission is to inspire hope, joy, courage and purpose in the global workforce. The consultancy, whose name comes from the Hebrew word “ro’eh”, which means “shepherd”, has so far partnered with more than 80 organisations to build cultures that honour both people and results, enabling these organisations to thrive.
“At Rohei, we believe in ‘honouring people and results’. Both are important; we need people to achieve results, and we need results to care for people,” Rachel explains.
The Rohei team walks the talk. The consultancy was recognised as a Great Place To Work for four consecutive years by the Great Place To Work Institute, and was named a Top Employer in 2018 by Influential Brands, a consumer and research insights organisation.
Says Rachel: “In November, we received the Best Workplace Award, with 98 per cent of our workforce stating that Rohei is a great place to work.
“To help companies build a culture of trust, we must first practise the same within our own organisation, and know how to build trust internally in order to partner our clients meaningfully.”
Working for the people
As an MP, Rachel works hard every day, serving her constituents and ensuring that their needs are taken care of. Her days start early, with lots of hot black coffee, followed by meetings in the morning. Her afternoons and nights are filled with community engagements, and she tries to be in bed by 12.30am.
When she has some downtime, she enjoys getting together with her close friends over lots of food and board games. To relax, she likes to read.
Rachel is still the CEO of Rohei and catches up with her colleagues every Monday morning.
“Since taking on the new community role, I have relied on our management team to run the daily operations. I continue to anchor Monday mornings, and meet with our directors weekly, and heads of department every month. I focus on our culture and continue to prepare for the future.”
Rachel refers to working for her constituents as “a privilege”, and adds that her current role is very much aligned with what she did in the private sector.
“My work at Trybe and Rohei is not dissimilar to my duty as an MP. My job is to listen, solve problems, and care for my constituents. I am thankful for the many selfless grassroots volunteers; together, we serve the people of Telok Blangah.”
“We can all be peacemakers”
When Rachel started the Telok Blangah Mentoring Club, her objective was to “journey with the youths” by partnering them with mentors, and exposing them to four specific areas (sports, business, nature, and arts and music), giving them equal opportunities in learning.
The club, which meets twice a month, started with young people aged between 10 and 17, and 65 mentors. The club is diverse, with youths from all economic, social, religious and educational backgrounds. The mentorship programme is funded by the ward’s residents and patrons, and all the mentors are or were fellow residents.
“With this club, we hope to expand the world view of our pre-teens and teens,” says the good-natured, friendly and approachable MP.
“We have two mentors to every two or three mentees, and our goal is to expose these youths to different fields, because not every young person has the same opportunities for growth and learning. Our mentors plan activities and excursions for them, to give them a better understanding of the world out there.
“So far, the club has proved popular because it’s been more than a year since the mentoring programme started, and the first cohort is still there. Come 2023, we will see a larger cohort. We hope to continue to inspire our young friends to find that one thing that they will be energised by, go deep in, and flourish in his or her lane,” she says.
Despite her many achievements, Rachel had to deal with challenges as she worked to bring some of her ideas to life.
“Youth work is not a simple endeavour. You can’t measure success or see tangible results right away. When you’re helping young people create a better future, it often takes years before you witness the fruits of your labour,” she explains.
“For instance, in the early 2000s, it was difficult speaking to stakeholders about our work at Trybe, because the success stories only came later. Being patient is certainly a challenge with this kind of work, and it takes resilience to hang in there and not give up when you don’t see immediate results.”
While Rachel has lived her life putting others first, she believes that it’s important for all of us to live selflessly as well, and with kindness at the heart of everything we do, so as to make the world a happier and more peaceful place to live.
“My hope is for all of us to be peacemakers. This means not judging or condemning others, expanding your view, understanding different perspectives, and being comfortable with discourse and disagreement. Life is complex, but we can strengthen the social fabric by understanding one another, hearing people out, bringing joy to those in need, and building trust within our communities.”